The Valley of the Wolves

Last week I went to a talk about medieval Westerdale by Carol M Wilson, a resident of the village and author of Westerdale: The Origins and Development of a Medieval Settlement. It was fascinating and has given me the inspiration to do more wanderings over that way.

And what better place to start than to head for a small valley which medieval name, Wulverdalebec, translates as the “stream through the wolves’ valley”. Especially as it was Open Access Land and I had no dog with me.

A secondary incentive was that Ms Wilson describes a cross on a rock in the valley that was found a few years ago when years of moss was washed off during a storm. There is a photograph in her book and although there is no way to date the cross, the suggestion is that the valley was used as a route off the moors into the main valley below.

The modern name for Wulverdalebec is Wood Dale down which flows Clough Gill. The first mention of it is in a 12th century document in which Bernard de Balliol (of Barnard Castle fame) granted land in Westerdale to the monks of Rievaulx Abbey including the right to snare wolves.

I often wonder what the moors were like in ages past. It is said that by the time the Romans left the limits were more or less established to what we see now. But the dominance of heather did not come about until the mid 19th century when management by regular burning started leading to a decrease in species diversity. I imagine a mixture of heathers, grasses and dwarf shrubs such as bilberry and cloudberry. The monks would have exploited the moors for sheepwalks preventing regeneration of trees except in the steep gills which the sheep avoided. No doubt because of the wolves.

I found the gill where a modern landrover track crosses and started to follow it downstream. It was deep with sandstone crags both sides and full of tumbled rocks, cascades and fallen oaks. Not an easy descent but not atypical of the many small wooded gills that run off the high moors. If there is such a thing as a natural wood I can imagine this gill to be it. I disturbed an owl but there was evidence of gamekeeper activity. Several animal traps set on conveniently placed logs across the beck.

I am afraid I can not see how this could ever have been a viable route off the moors into the valley below? If I was navigating off the high moors then the obvious way would be to go down the spur and keep well away from the deep wooded gills. As far as man is concerned it’s the line of least resistance. My route on to the moors had followed a distinct holloway from Top End to the top of gill. This would have been created by centuries of sledging peat off the moors. A gentle descent.

NZ6503 Rock Marks in Clough Gill

I failed to find the cross photographed in the book but did find another along with some letters and a date ‘1924’.

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